Episco-Fact #56
August 20, 2017

Who is St. Bartholomew and why is he celebrated with a red colored feast day?

St. Bartholomew does have a feast day being celebrated this coming Thursday, August 24. His inclusion on the calendar stems primarily from his inclusion on the lists the apostles and the tradition which attributes monumental evangelical travels to him. Because he was martyred, his feast day is a liturgically red date. All of which means, he is important but not top tier important like Easter or the Feast of the Transfiguration or, even, a typical Sunday.

I have warm place in my heart for St. Bartholomew because he was the patronal saint of my first Episcopal church home and my sponsoring parish for Holy Orders, a church at Park and 50th Streets in Manhattan. He is also notable for his saintly herald, which contains a flaying knife, one of the ways he is traditionally thought to have met his death in Armenia, although he is also said to have been beheaded there.

Bartholomew is found in all three complete lists of disciples in the Gospels, as well as the list of Apostles (those who are sent) in the book of Acts (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13). There are no details about him beyond his name from the Bible. Some early Church authorities identified him with Nathaniel from the Gospel of John because Bartholomew is not a proper name, rather it means "son of Tholomai" and therefore, it is more likely a surname. In any event, Nathaniel does have some narrative detail in the Gospel of John.

Tradition holds that Bartholomew traveled to Armenia to spread the Gospel. This tradition comes from Eusebius, a late 3rd and early 4th Century Church historian and the source of much of the information we now have about the late Apostolic and Early Classical Church period. According to Eusebius, Pantenus, the master of Origen (one of the earliest theologians of the Church) while evangelizing India, was told that Bartholomew had preached there before him and had given to his converts the Gospel of St. Matthew written in Hebrew, which was still treasured by the Church. "India" was a name covering a very wide area, including even Arabia Felix. Other traditions represent St. Bartholomew as preaching in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, and on the shores of the Black Sea; one legend, it is interesting to note, identifies him with Nathaniel, which is an association from the Bible, mentioned above.

Being one of the twelve is, in itself, a reason to honor Bartholomew with his own calendar date, but if Eusebius' information is even partially correct, his work in far off lands spreading the story of Jesus is quite remarkable enough to warrant his inclusion on our Church calendar.

 

 The Rev. David Lucey